Arsène Wenger often talks about managing Arsenal the way old couples talk about marriage, or how parents talk about raising kids, or how other old couples talk about saying to hell with their marriage and the kids and getting a divorce—that is, he describes it as hard, thankless work that for the most part sucks, but when it’s finally over and done with is ultimately rewarding.
The latest revelatory Wenger interview comes from France Football, helpfully translated by Get French Football News. In it, Wenger discusses a variety of topics from the bizarre new world where clubs are owned by mega-rich countries that spare no expense to smooth over their well-earned reputation as human rights violators in an elaborate soccer-focused soft-power play, to the changing role of the manager over the years, to the kind of manager he’d like to replace him at Arsenal one day. The most interesting bits were those that pertained to the self-proclaimed masochism specialist’s love/hate relationship with coaching. Here’s what he had to say about how shitty it is to lose:
Arsène, what is the hardest thing in your role as manager?
Every defeat is a nightmare. One of the handicaps, when you stay at the same club for a long time, is that you feel an enormous amount of guilt as a coach when you lose a big game. And the longer you stay at the club, the more difficult it becomes because you know to what extent people are affected, they have a horrible weekend, they’ll be crying maybe.
When you sign a 2-year contract (initially), you don’t care as much, because you do not understand how a club can mean so much to its fans. But as time goes by, the more difficult it becomes. Each time, you feel so guilty.
On how the #WengerOut movement affected him:
How did you cope with the protests against you that occurred last season?
There have been a lot of divisions amongst Arsenal supporters. They have sometimes been expressed in a ridiculous way, like when a plane flew over the Emirates with a message that was hostile towards me.
What consequences did it have on Arsenal’s season.
Maybe my attitude had an impact on our season, because, at one point, the players came to me and asked me, “what is going on, boss”? With my indecisiveness, I created a lack of clarity in the dressing room. And there is nothing worse than when players feel like you are not totally committed. So, at one moment, I said to them: “I am with you guys, but we have to win matches.”
Where did this indecisiveness come from? Did it relate to what was happening at board level or the fans who were demanding your departure?
You always ask yourself questions. Am I the right person to continue to do good work? When I am faced with uncertainty or sadness, I try to really focus on what really counts in football. I question myself. I work harder, I try to advance myself, to become better, but I cannot say that the critics do not affect me. Everybody wants to be liked, by the fans especially. You have to continue to fight, to concentrate on your motivation. To be able to resist stress is an important quality in modern football, and not only for managers.
On the pressure to get immediate results at the potential expense of giving young players a chance:
Do you not think that Chelsea fans want to see their youngsters, who are shining in the Youth Cup and the UEFA Youth League, wearing the Blues shirt for the first team?
No doubt, but when you bring in a big name for a lot of money, you are reassuring fans. A manager must assume his responsibilities. If I play a 20-year-old central defender, I know it will cost me during the season. I have to accept it, and take that responsibility. If I play a 28-year-old central defender – maybe less talented – it will cost me less. At the end of the day, the easier decision is to not play the young players.
That is a difficult decision to take.
There are moments when a manager feels very alone. When you take responsibility for your choices and you play a youngster because he deserves it. That is something that you learn on the job when you are a manager: a few exceptional cases aside, it is only at the age of 23, 24 that you really have a player. Before that, a young footballer has highs and lows. And that, is seemingly something that nobody can accept.
Lest you think Wenger’s job is all loneliness and stress and fear and guilt, Wenger did have a funny response when asked to consider his own retirement:
If you had to choose a successor, who would it be?
(Laughs) I will tell you a story. A manager goes to see a doctor and he ask: “How much longer will I live.” The doctor responds: “Quit your job as manager, immediately. Do not drink any more. Stop smoking.” The manager insists: “Will you guarantee that I will live longer if I do this?” “No not at all,” the doctor tells him. “But you will feel like you are living a lot longer.” Ever since I heard that story, I have decided not to change job!
Wenger probably will never walk away from Arsenal willingly, and when he finally is forced to hang up his whistle, I’m sure he’ll have loved and hated every second of his career.